Stuart Sidwell’s vibrant stand on upper campus has attracted crowds of eager students for the past 30 years, drawn in by his vast assortment of eye-catching jewelry and collectible items.
Sidwell, a 78-year-old veteran, decided to settle down on the west coast after he spent much of his early adulthood in continuous flux. He moved to California in 1969 after a 13-month tour in Vietnam, and worked as an independent auto damage appraiser.
However, the swift rise of technology in the early ‘90s threatened his appraisal career and forced him to reconsider his line of work.
“Things kind of slowed down because we were switching to computers,” Sidwell said. “I could see that this job was probably going to go away.”
After a friend of Sidwell’s introduced him to the silver jewelry business in 1992, he decided that he wanted to take part in the growing demand for these products at flea markets.
“I loaded up the credit card and I wound up with this stuff – a couple tables of jewelry,” Sidwell said. “That started my vending world.”
For a few years, Sidwell only sold silver jewelry, but he eventually expanded his inventory to include decorative posters and CDs of every genre and decade. By the mid ’90s, he dropped out of numerous street fairs due to high booking costs and the rampant theft of his items.
He instead joined vendors at colleges across California and Oregon, including California State University, Long Beach. Sidwell said he has always felt welcome at the college by the administration and students alike.
“Some schools think vendors are the enemy and they just don’t want that kind of action going on campus,” Sidwell said. “Cal State Long Beach is just the opposite.”
Despite the takeover of music streaming services, Sidwell has seen some of the greatest success in sales with CDs because of the growing interest in physical media.
“They’re [customers] not particularly after the songs on there,” Sidwell said. “Because of the fact that everything is digital, they’re also after the fact that it’s a collectible they can put on a shelf and listen to when they want.”
Although some days have slow foot traffic, Sidwell said he has seen consistent sales on campus because of its population of over 35,000 students.
First-year business major Samantha Alonso enjoys having various vendors on campus and has begun to regularly shop at Sidwell’s stand. Posters of The Velvet Underground and Amy Winehouse caught her eye as she sorted through his large collection.
Third-year kinesiology major Valentina Enriquez also likes to browse Sidwell’s posters of popular musicians and bands, including Tyler, the Creator and Kanye West.
“I’m a transfer student so I wasn’t used to seeing stands at my last campus,” Enriquez said. “I really like how alive this campus is.”
Sidwell enjoys listening to the classics by The Beatles and Pink Floyd, as well as music by newer artists like Arctic Monkeys. He said the most popular genres among students are rap, hip-hop and alternative, however.
“I’ve sold hundreds of Frank Ocean posters,” he said. “It seems like the rappers that have been around a while keep recreating themselves and coming out with good stuff. I do very well in that area.”
Sidwell hopes to one day own a toy hauler and travel around the country, vending at some of the biggest colleges along the way. Despite these aspirations, he remains content with his career and he is glad to be pursuing his passion.
“At my age now, I’m just comfortable with being in Long Beach,” Sidwell said.
Sidwell will spend the next few weeks vending at colleges in Oregon and will return to CSULB during the third week of October.